Dying on a Bike Not All that Popular, Despite Recent Report

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Look out dude! You're not wearing a helmet, is all.
Welcome to The Spokesman, our bi-monthly bicycle column written by French Clements, a San Francisco resident and distance cyclist who considers it pretty routine to ride his bike to Marin County or San Jose and back. He belongs to a club, the SF Randonneurs, and is active in numerous aspects of the cycling community.

In a brief but yucky entry on SFGate.com, Mike Kepka recently posted this doozy of a disservice to cyclists and cyclist-hopefuls everywhere. Watch. Read. Process.

I'm really tired of stuff like this, and this, and this. It all feeds into a culture of fear and amounts to a net win for cars. Faced with Kepka's 300 breathless words and a touching (?) video he maybe outsourced to the folks who made Amélie, my tiny blogger-mind reels at the avenues for analysis.

Big note: His interviewee, Caycee Cullen, is not a typical rider. Wonderfully confident on a bike, she's obviously faster than most and tosses out juicy quotes that Kepka just runs with, in a sentimentalist format that's not cut out for subtlety. My beef isn't with her. She's right, there's some courage needed to start riding this city.

But hey, Kepka, it's not courage we need the most. It's a finer blend of comfort, and good peripheral awareness, and patience, and keeping tipping-point-ready noobs from getting near your sloppy bucket o' fear.

This is a narrow line we're walking. I'm resorting to bullet points.

  • "...their final destination being work." As in Final Destination? But with eerily passive phrasing? I'm freaking out already!
  • Biking is "like any daredevil activity." Weird, 'cause I see really tame-looking suits and total nerds and mommies with toddlers in baby seats and old ladies and nobody really has to go faster than they feel comfortable going. I guess I need to ride faster. New goal: be a daredevil, hair-raising death-cheater. Sorry, I'll be enjoying this sarcasm for a while longer.
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Bike to Work Day, 2012. This was the last anyone saw of these kids.

  • The first time she rode in the city, Nirvana was still around. Things were HEINOUS for cyclists. And we're asked to believe they haven't changed much? Somebody call the out-of-context police! And the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition! They'll be bummed to know their millions of dollars and 50 bike-lane miles are as protective as Kurt Cobain's skull.
  • Her commute is from 15th St. and Valencia to Market and Sixth? Okay, that's among the most accident-y in the city, but it's also got the most safety accommodations. As long as they're moving safely and not too fast, riders today don't have it better, with stop lights that run in their favor all along Valencia (you know about that, right?), bike lanes for the whole trip (protected and otherwise), and scads of one-way cross streets that minimize surprises. But only the brave survive! Those 71 percent more riders -- kuh-razy! 
  • Wait, 17 years of commuting? And she's not dead yet? That sounds less like luck and more like skill. Plus, I dunno, better bike infrastructure on her commute. So good work on the handling skills, and keep paying that SFBC membership fee, and bummer about being co-opted for the cheesy pro-car hit job.
  • "...riders are largely defenseless" against buses and motorists? What about traffic laws and soft-hit-post bike lanes and forced right turns and trained/licensed vehicle operators of all kinds and common moral decency? But French, he means getting blindsided, by like a drunk-texting Muni driver or whatever. Yeah, well, pedestrians get blindsided all the time. You gonna stop walking too?
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CULTURE OF FEAR CULTURE OF FEAR

  • Muni tracks are treacherous until you realize that they stop being treacherous when you ride over them at a 90-degree angle or so. The brief final line -- conceding to basic cycling laws and rider-education courses -- makes everything before it alarmist and semi-irrelevant. Hence brief.
  • The helmet cam. Any footage shot by a helmet cam is alien and scary.
  • I'm not even touching the happy-to-die-on-a-bike thing. Dying pain hurt sad. Always! But I digress. I mean, I wouldn't want to scare you.

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